My new favorite show: Locked Up Abroad

If you haven’t had a chance, I highly recommend you check out my new favorite show, Locked Up Abroad, on the National Geographic Channel. I stumbled across it recently and have not been able to stop watching since. Each episode chronicles the real-life stories of young men and women who have been incarcerated while traveling in countries including Venezuela, Mexico, Nepal and Thailand. As you might guess, the arrests frequently involve drugs, although other incidents include a kidnapping by paramilitaries in Colombia and gold smuggling in Nepal.

Using first-hand interviews, each story unfolds as the protagonist chronicles a series of bad decisions and rationalizations that led to their eventual arrest. What starts in many cases as a free all-expenses-paid holiday, a chance for “adventure” and an opportunity to make a quick buck quickly turns into an all-too-real nightmare. They describe endless days waiting in isolated holding cells, confusing foreign justice systems and getting caught in the crossfire of deadly prison gang wars. Interestingly enough, not all episodes involve prison – in one of my favorite episodes so far, an American sets out on a motorcycle trip across South America, only to be kidnapped at gunpoint by guerillas in Colombia. Not only does he manage to eventually escape, he also refuses to be sent back to the U.S. after his ordeal, choosing to continue his motorcycle trip to its completion. Fascinating television to say the least.

What makes Locked Up Abroad especially compelling for a twenty-something like me with a bad case of wanderlust is that the situations hit very close to home. Granted, I will never be stupid enough to accept an “all-expenses-paid vacation” to South America or try to drive my motorcycle into an area controlled by Colombian guerillas, but I do understand the mindset. Travel can skew our sense of reality, making us crave opportunities to push our boundaries and have truly unique, memorable experiences. That is for most of us, a very healthy instinct – it’s only when it crosses the line between reality and fantasy that it can become horribly serious.

Check out Locked Up Abroad Monday nights at 9pm on the National Geographic Channel.